Do you really need that?

With the holidays in full swing all around us come the pressures to purchase gifts and trinkets to celebrate.

Whether it comes as decorations that match the occasion, special food treats that only can be found seasonally, clothing that exhibits holiday spirit, or buying gifts to ensure you do not show up empty-handed, ‘tis the season for junk.

Yes, I said it.

Junk, stuff, rubbish, detritus, debris, clutter… That.

But how do you decide if that little snowman figurine sitting on the store shelf is worth buying on a whim for a gift-giving occasion in the future?

One strategy is to do a 5 Whys analysis (5Y). The foundations of this mental exercise are attributed to Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of, you guessed it, Toyota Industries.

A 5Y analysis can be done for simple to complex scenarios that cut to the underlying or root symptom of a problem.

It is also thought to be most effective when the people impacted, with hands-on experience of the scenario, are the ones processing through the problem in question.

The process is to start with a recurring problem. Then, ask “why” five times to get to the root cause.

For example, in a workspace, it could look something like this: “The IT department isn’t meeting response time targets.”

We would want to bring together team members of that department because they have the most hands-on experience with the inner workings of the department and are processing the problem in question throughout their daily activities.

The first why would be:

1. Why isn’t the IT department meeting response time targets?

– After deliberation and group discussion, the answer comes to, “Because they don’t have enough resources.”

2. The next why could be: “Why don’t they have enough resources?”

– Again, there would be discussion, and the resulting answer comes to: “Because management has allocated insufficient budget and staffing.”

3. This would lead us to ask: “Why hasn’t the management allocated more resources?”

– Through some deeper analysis, we may find that: “They might be unaware of the issue or prioritizing other tasks.”

4. So we would ask: “Why are they not aware of this problem?”

– To which the response comes: “There could be a lack of communication between the IT department and management, or no proper monitoring system in place to track response times.”

5. Finally, we should get to the root cause of the missed response times by asking: “Why is there a lack of communication or monitoring systems?”

– It might be due to limited time and resources for setting up such systems, or the existing processes are not effective enough.

Based on this analysis, we can see that improving communication between the IT department and management, as well as implementing proper monitoring systems, could help address the issue of response times not being met.

In an office setting, this form of analysis can be fairly cut and dry, and can help lead to the underlying causes of inefficiency or low ROI.

However, in people’s lives, this becomes a little more sticky, and it can help uncover hidden biases or belief structures that, at times, can be a bit uncomfortable.

But with knowledge comes one’s ability to change and to see through the illusion of what’s at the surface, to dig deeper into things that hold us back.

This brings us back to the purchasing of stuff conundrum. Let’s face it, many of us have too much stuff.

If you have a house full of stuff with a garage that’s so full that you can’t park there and a storage unit where you have more stuff, you have too much stuff.

And if you have too much stuff, it’s highly likely that many of your friends and acquaintances do, too.

The difficult part of doing a 5Y for yourself is that you are the sole questioner and responder, and sometimes it can be hard to be honest with yourself. If this is the case, recruit a trustworthy friend to help you through the steps. Be honest with yourself, don’t try to wriggle your way out of the complete process.

Let’s do a quick 5Y analysis on the statement, “I feel compelled to buy a gift even if it might be returned or thrown away.”

We’ll start with the first why:

1. Why do I feel compelled to buy a gift?

– Because I want to show appreciation and make others happy.

2. Why is the act of giving gifts important for me?

– It could be due to societal expectations or personal values that emphasize gift-giving as an expression of care and gratitude.

3. Why do these societal expectations exist?

– They might have originated from cultural norms, traditions, or marketing strategies aimed at promoting consumerism.

4. Why am I influenced by these societal expectations and marketing strategies?

– It could be because of my upbringing, personal beliefs, or the way media portrays gift-giving as essential in various situations.

5. Why do I feel a strong emotional connection to giving gifts even if they might not be appreciated or used?

– This may stem from an innate desire for social approval and validation, which is reinforced by societal norms and marketing strategies.

There you have it, the underlying cause of feeling compelled to buy a gift, even if it might be returned or thrown away, lies in personal values influenced by societal expectations and marketing strategies.

Does that help you make the decision as to whether or not to buy the little plastic snowman?

Using the 5 Whys to help determine whether to buy something for yourself or others can be extremely effective and help show a side of yourself that you may not be happy about.

To address this issue, one could work on becoming more aware of these influences and strive for self-awareness when making purchasing decisions.

It also can help you to preemptively remove clutter from your life or the lives of people you know who really don’t need more stuff.

This holiday season, what are some ways that you’ve found to help share your gratitude and make other people happy without going down the path of impulse or guilt buys?

Sometimes it can be hard to keep track of your decluttering habits throughout the day. That’s why we added it as a healthy habit to track in The Agile Life Plan 4-week kick-start free course. Try it out for yourself 🙂

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